Cage Match: Slow It Down

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"The enemy we’re fighting is different than the one we’d war gamed against."

–General William Wallace

There was a lot of talk about Gen. Wallace’s little blunder, but it seemed to me that everyone missed the real significance of it. Looking just below the surface, you could see revealed in the general’s comment a crucial, damning truth about the war. And that is this: The real reason the Bush administration did not expect the Iraqis to fight is that its entire experience with opposition has been with the American civilian.

There’s almost nothing you can’t get away with doing to an American. Take away his health insurance and he’s likely to fall to his knees in gratitude. You can tell him to his face that you’re pulling funding for his kids’ schools in order to bail out some millionaire stockbroker in Connecticut who overbet the peso–and he not only won’t get mad, he’ll swell up with pride and burst out singing the "Star-Spangled Banner." You can even steal his pension and gamble it away in Vegas, and the most he’ll do is sulk a little.

In those rare cases when an American gets mad, what he usually does is wait four years to vote for an identical candidate. Push him a little farther over the edge, and he may flirt with a hopeless third-party politician or write a sarcastic letter to the New York Times. And when he becomes disconsolate, when he finally decides to take to the streets, look out–because now he’s a real threat–standing in some park or other publicly sanctioned place, and chanting goofy slogans while carrying a poster of George Bush with a crayon-drawn forked tail.

The White House expected the Iraqis to line up like redcoats with their muskets drawn in single-rank formation because that’s what we do. Whatever they tell us the permissible means of protest is, that’s what we do. If the permit for the demonstration is at an abandoned drive-in fifty miles from the nearest town, we show up there, brows furrowed and banners waving, in huge numbers. While the generals point at high-tech maps on all the major networks, we sit there babbling into the crackly dissenter line on C-SPAN at two in the morning. There would probably still be kings playing croquet on the grounds of Versailles today if the tactics of the French revolution had been like this–better heed us peasants, messieurs, or we’ll send twice the usual amount of mail to our congressmen.

We’re so accustomed to following the "rules" of political engagement that when someone like Michael Moore breaches decorum for thirty seconds to sabotage his own Oscar acceptance, enormous numbers of us actually consider this a real act of brave defiance, and not the quixotic, colossally insufficient gesture it was.

The whole point of opposition is to make sure that the people who are making decisions know that there will be consequences if they go too far in ignoring the public, or at least a plurality of it. And I think it has to be said that for people like Bush and Rumsfeld, large marches of malcontents in New York and Washington are not a consequence. They’re an amusing bonus.

This little adventure in Iraq wouldn’t even be fun for people like Bush and Rumsfeld unless they could take a break from watching the missile-cam footage from time to time to look out the window and see 500,000 dirty hippies singing "Kumbaya" under the Washington monument. What’s life without a little comic relief?

I realize that "500,000 dirty hippies" is an unfair characterization. But that’s the whole point. That’s all it takes to dismiss 500,000 protesters–a characterization. The big three, CNN and FOX have succeeded in making every antiwar protest look like a gathering of bitter losers with too much time on their hands, and I would be shocked if it weren’t true that every time an earnest, polysyllabic protester made his way onto the air, Bush didn’t gain 10,000 votes for the next election.

People like me are part of the problem, too, which is why I’m even on the subject. I could make myself feel better about things by writing glibly about this or that government lie, but that’s really what it accomplishes–making me feel better.

In fact, the whole business of keeping track of media deceptions has become an unusually ridiculous exercise, and one would need a thousand pages a week to even begin to do a decent job of it.

You have to wonder after a while whether this is a good use of my or anyone else’s time, racing to keep track of the unceasing string of sensational headlines that turn out ten minutes later to be idiotic fabrications: the Basra uprising that wasn’t, the deployed Scud missile that wasn’t, the seizure of Basra that wasn’t, the uncovered secret chemical weapons factory that was damning proof of the existence of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction–except that it wasn’t–the missiles that landed in Turkey and Iran that weren’t ours until they were, the civilians we didn’t bomb at two different marketplaces in Baghdad, the mass surrenders that weren’t, and so on.

Then there’s our benevolent solution to the humanitarian aid problem in Umm-Qasr: providing free water to Iraqis with tanker trucks, who would then be allowed to resell it to the thirsty for a "reasonable fee."

After a while, it’s simply not dignified to freak out over each of these things individually. The dignified thing to do is to recognize once and for all the essential nature of what we’re up against, and then fight it. Don’t write petitions or make appeals, don’t sing songs, don’t wait for someone up there to change their "minds." Just fight it. And make it hurt.

Wall Street supports this war. How do you think it would react if all 30 percent of the country that opposes the war decided one day to dump all of its stock? A self-defeating gesture, to be sure, but we didn’t get to drink the British tea, either. CNN and FOX are making a killing waving a flag for the Pentagon. Why not start boycotting their advertisers one at a time until they pull their spots? Does Dell really want that "Dude, you’re getting a Dell" kid to be turned into a symbol of the war machine on college campuses?

Hell, forget about boycotting just Dell. Boycott everything. If even this minority of the population could go a month without over-consuming, it would give corporate America an aneurysm. Just one month of no new cars, no new hoop shoes, no Atlantic records, no Kellogg’s Fruit Harvest, no nothing but the bare minimum.

For years, corporate America and the media have tried to convince us that buying things is a political act, a way of expressing our individuality (Fruitopia instead of flower power, Nikes sold to the tune of "Revolution," peace signs on the walls of Starbucks). Well, let’s call their bluff. Let’s non-participate. Let’s go on consumer strike. Pull a slowdown. We don’t have a lot of choices when it comes to voting for politicians, but when it comes to buying, where our existence is actually necessary, we have a thousand choices a day. It might be the only method we have of making the decision-making class pay attention to our concerns.

Hell, let’s try something, anyway. Because what we’re doing now is just what they expected–nothing.


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